A Space Ship

A letter to the children of Troy, Michigan:

16 March 1971

Dear Boys and Girls,

Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.

Isaac Asimov

I came across this information on the blog Book Patrol: A Haven for Book Culture and followed a link to the Troy Public Libary, where there is more information about “letters to the children of Troy.” You can see photographs of some of the letters there, including the one from Isaac Asimov.

In 1971, the new public library in Troy, Michigan was opening. The children’s librarian Marguerite Hart wrote to many notable figures asking them to “write a letter to the children of Troy about the importance of libraries, and their memories of reading and of books.”

Hart received 97 letters in return “from individuals who spanned the arts, sciences, and politics across the 50 states, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, the Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.” From Saul Alinsky to Vincent Price, from Isaac Asimov to the Pope, the letters provide a cultural snapshot of the early 1970’s and convey the essence of the value of libraries.”

Maybe if we thought of librairies as space ships it would be easier to get funding to keep them open.




I love libraries. They’re so full of, well, books. I remember getting a library card in 1966 that was good until 1969. Three whole years! I was so happy.

I read the book reviews from the New York Times and NPR, so I regularly get the benefit of someone else’s opinion of a lot of books. But sometimes I like to inject an element of surprise. At the library, I’ll take a look around in the shelves near the specific book that I have chosen. I wonder, what is on the shelf below? Behind? Across? At the other end? Every once in a while, I decide to check out an extra book from one of these shelves, just to randomly broaden my horizens. Exciting stuff, right?

Not too long ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new mystery/crime author who had seven books in a series. I found her just by looking at the bottom shelf of where I was standing. I finished book four and am looking forward to the other three. That’s one of the things I appreciate: finding an author with several books published and whose work I like.


Express checkout

The Austin Public Library has express checkout kiosks. One of those do-it-yourself deals. If you have your library card handy and you don’t want to wait in line, you can check out your books yourself, quickly.

Unless you’re in line behind me.

I decided to try the express checkout kiosk. I wasn’t in a hurry but just thought I’d try something new. After all, I had my book and my library card. How hard can it be?

I love that question: How hard can it be? It’s my favorite question.

(My previous favorite question was “Where are you?” That was before cell phones were invented. If you forgot to be somewhere, someone would call you at home, you’d answer the phone and they’d yell at you “Where are you?” as if they didn’t know. They knew exactly where you were and where you weren’t. I had to choose a new favorite question after everyone got a cell phone and people used a normal tone of voice when asking where anyone was.)

I should know by now that anytime anyone asks that question, including me — especially me — I will soon be finding how just how hard it can be. In some cases, as with the express checkout kiosk, it was not just hard, but impossible.

Library card. Put the bar code under the scanner beam. Check.

Library book. Put the book’s bar code under the scanner beam. Put the book’s bar code under the scanner beam. Put the book’s bar code … oh, you get the idea. Why won’t it scan my book? I’m looking at the instructional pictures and it looks like I’m doing it right. Looks like I’m doing it right is not the same as doing it right.

Is the book’s bar code under the scanner beam? Yes, it is. But it’s not reading it.

I try this about six or seven times (thus the non-express line, behind me). I finally give up and go the checkout desk.

“I couldn’t get the express checkout kiosk to work,” I explain, as if anyone is interested in why I’m in this particular line. No one is interested. The librarian takes my book, puts it under his scanner beam and then hands it to me. It’s ready for me to take out of the library.

Immediately, I see what my problem was. There are two — not one, but two — bar codes on the back of the book. One is printed on the book itself, with the identifying information and retail sale price. That’s the one I was trying to scan. The other one — about six inches away, at the top of the book — was the library scan code, added by the library when they acquired the book. It’s the library’s bar code that I was supposed to be using.

I never saw it while I was trying to use the express checkout kiosk. I looked at the instructional pictures, positioned the book like it was in the photo and kept trying until I got tired of trying. Glad we got that cleared up.

On my next trip to the library, I try the kiosk again.

Library card bar code under the scanner beam. Check. Library book bar code under the sanner beam. Ha, ha, I’m using the library’s bar code this time.

Still won’t work. Different error this time. See, you can’t just be holding the book in the air to scan the bar code. You have to put the book down in the crook of the kiosk so it can change the setting so it won’t set off the unchecked-out book alarm as you walk out.

Again, the un-express line is behind me.

(Also, you can’t wear sunglasses or hats or any clothing item that hides your face as you walk in. The security video tapes need a clear view of your face. I forgot to tell you that, earlier.)

I finally manage to position the book correctly and check it out at the kiosk. I am amazed that the kiosk didn’t choose that exact moment to run out of paper for the receipt, but the receipt printed without any problem.

Can’t wait to see what kiosk error I discover next time. It’s an adventure, in the slow lane.

Quiet, please

I remember getting my library card renewed in 1966. It had an expiration date of 1969. I remember thinking, “1969? That will never get here.”

So much for the logic of an 11-year-old.

Libraries sure have changed since 1966. The library I’m at now has a self-checkout desk. You scan your own books/CDs/DVDs to check them out.

It has a coffee machine, where you can buy six types of coffee and three types of tea in individual packets. Guess the “No food or drink” policy is gone, too.

Usually this library is crawling with kids. Lots of happy, loud, running around kids. Sort of like a free-for-all daycare facility.

According to the sign, there is also a family-friendly restroom. (I haven’t gone in to see just how friendly it is.)

The parking spaces closest to the door are reserved for the handicapped and for hybrid vehicles. (This is Austin, after all.) Here’s a picture of an organic hybrid parked at one of the signs. An Organic Hybrid

Well, my time at the computer is up. I think I’ll go slurp some tea, quietly.